I’m lucky to have friends who love to read and they send me in the direction of things they love or think I’ll love. That’s how I found Adrian McKinty and his detective Sean Duffy.
These novels are set during “The Troubles”, that understated euphemism for when North Ireland was more at war with itself than usual. As as Catholic on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Duffy has a permanent price on his head as a traitor. But he’s normally in no worse position than any other member of the RUC, with its alarming officer suicide and murder rates. Duffy must daily start his day by checking under his car for mercury switch bombs, as must every other member of the force. And until this book Duffy seems insulated from the worst threats. This book begins with Duffy being marched handcuffed up a hill to what appears to be his assassination by three IRA members.
From this horrifying start Duffy begins to tell how he arrived in this position, starting with the killing of two drug dealers on separate nights by, of all things, a cross-bow. Is it a father seeking revenge? One of the Protestant or Catholic groups policing the streets? The reader gets to the answer eventually. Along the way Duffy’s life continues to unfold with a child, a Protestant love partner who refuses to even consider marriage, and his associates on the force known as Crabbie and Lawson.
McKinty manages to maintain an atmosphere that is at least what I imagine North Ireland must have been like in the 70s and 80s. England continued its press to maintain order, with no shortage of its own cruelty. Protestant forces and the Catholic IRA have branched out into fundraising through drug sales and continue to antagonize each other with all the anger developing since Partition+300 years. In short, a horrifying place that can turn violent at any time. Hardly a character in the book doesn’t dream of leaving.
Duffy, somehow, maintains his integrity and humor, and is able to curse people in a way that’s both hilarious and would curl wallpaper.
This is the sixth Duffy book from McKinty and they get better as they go. The violence can be gruesome, which is to say realistic. He will make up a fact now and then, for example one reference to the M249 submachine gun says it was called a SAW because it sawed people in half. Actually it stands for Squad Automatic Weapon. I counted two other slips like this. He needs a fact checker but he writes a fine thriller all the same.
There’s some hope for Duffy and his family at the end of this book but things have improved for Duffy before without much looking better in the next book. This is an excellent series with a nice mix of tough noir detective fiction with sensibilities as modern as a trip to 1980s Ulster will allow.